Golfers, along with the people who run the courses where we play, often rhapsodize about the joys of walking 18 holes. Walking, it is said, is more than just good exercise; it will help players gain a greater appreciation of a course’s architecture and, anecdotally, seems to promote better play.
And yet virtually every time golfers get to the golf course, they pile their bags on the back of a motorized cart and drive to the first tee.
Meanwhile, course operators, who used to have a ready-made means of player development in their caddie programs, now have an addiction to cart fees and a shortage of customers.
So it is noteworthy that Madden’s on Gull Lake, a 63-hole resort in the vacation destination of Brainerd, Minn., this year has tried to shift the paradigm. The resort has instituted walking green fees for all of its courses.
On The Classic, Madden’s marquee course, weekend walking/riding rates are $99/$119. Similar pricing has been established for the resort’s Pine Beach East, Pine Beach West and nine-hole course.
Madden’s is sweetening the incentive to walk with its Miler’s Club, which awards walkers $1 for every mile walked. The Classic is a six-mile walk, so $6 are credited to the walker’s account, to be used anywhere at the resort. Credits of $4 and $3, respectively, are offered for the shorter East and West courses.
Madden’s head professional, Glenn Hagberg, said the initiative is a bit of a gamble because cart fees are an important revenue stream, but the resort is betting that the policy will generate new business.
“What we foresee is that our cart rounds won’t necessarily go down, but we’re going to add rounds from a different market, the more hardcore golfer who wants that walking experience,” he said.
To help in that regard, the club has partnered with Anytime Fitness, a 24-hour club. A new fitness option allows members to alternate between training at the club and walking rounds at Madden’s. Hagberg reasons that the initiative will appeal to the same young people who are determined to fight off advancing age.
“It’s our effort to get people to incorporate the game into a healthier lifestyle,” he said.
The resort is hoping for an ancillary benefit: heightened architectural recognition for The Classic, which is ranked No. 8 on the list of Golfweek’s Best Courses You Can Play in Minnesota.
“You look at the courses that are on the top of those lists, and they get back to traditional golf, walking with caddies,” Hagberg said. “If you’re standing still, you’re getting passed. So we’re always looking for ways to get better.”
Madden’s is operating its own caddie program, and Hagberg said the resort rejected two of every three applicants. The caddies have to be adults and play to a 13 handicap or better. Beyond that, they have to be good company for guests. Hagberg said part of the training is a lengthy written test that covers everything from “who has the best steak in town to how long does it take to get to the airport.”